The Arete Initiative at Duke University’s Kenan Institute for Ethics 

scholarship in the service of virtue and vocation

The Arete Initiative sponsors scholarship and learning opportunities focused on recovering and sustaining the virtues in contemporary life, especially in the workplace, the university, and the public square.
Arete is a Greek word that connotes moral virtue or, more broadly, human excellence. How do we recognize virtue or excellence? Answers to that question depend on what we understand to be the purpose, or telos, of human being, a question often neglected in contemporary ethical discourse. The Arete Initiative actively investigates the characteristics of a life well lived and invites reflection on the nature and purpose of human being.
The Arete Initiative serves the Duke community by sponsoring research, conferences, classes, and other learning opportunities that help participants to discern the shape of human excellence as well as pathways to foster virtue in the varied concrete circumstances of contemporary life. The initiative’s focus on intellectual virtues helps to foster productive environments for the exchange of ideas between parties who disagree. The initiative’s focus on human agency and vocation encourages participants to identify and engage in practices that make human flourishing possible, while also offering the conceptual tools to help people make better life choices, an issue of particular importance for university students. 


Dr. Farr Curlin serves as the Director of the Arete Initiative and is a hospice and palliative care physician who joined Duke University in January 2014. He holds joint appointments in the School of Medicine, including its Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine, and in Duke Divinity School, including its Initiative on Theology, Medicine and Culture. He works with Duke colleagues to foster scholarship, study, and training regarding the intersections of medicine, ethics, and religion.After graduating from medical school, he completed internal medicine residency training and fellowships in both health services research and clinical ethics at the University of Chicago before joining its faculty in 2003. Dr. Curlin’s empirical research charts the influence of physicians’ moral traditions and commitments, both religious and secular, on physicians’ clinical practices. As an ethicist, he addresses questions regarding whether and in what ways physicians’ religious commitments ought to shape their clinical practices in a plural democracy.


John Rose serves as the Associate Director of the Arete Initiative and is an Instructor at the Kenan Institute for Ethics.  John’s research concerns the tradition of virtue ethics and Christian theology. Originally from Iowa, John holds a B.A. in Religion from Wabash College, an M.T.S. from Duke Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary.


Upcoming Events

Jun. 25 – 29, 2018 – Arete Medical Ethics Summer Seminar

This seminar invites students to examine the central ethical questions that arise in the everyday practice of medicine and to interpret those questions through a moral framework drawing from both natural law and medicine’s traditional orientation toward the patient’s health. This framework will be contrasted with principlism and consequentialism as participants consider what sort of practice medicine is, whether it has a rational end or goal, and how medicine contributes to human flourishing.

The seminar will consider common clinical ethical cases to examine perennial ethical concerns that arise in the practice of medicine, including: the nature of the clinician-patient relationship; the limits of medicine, the meaning of autonomy, the place of conscience in the physician’s work, the difference between an intended effect and a side effect, proportionality, human dignity, sexuality and reproduction, the beginning of life, disability, end-of-life care, and death. The purpose of the seminar is to equip participants with intellectual tools that can help physicians discern how to practice medicine well in the face of medicine’s clinical challenges and moral complexities.

More information here.


Nov. 8, 2017 – So You Want to be a Good Physician?

What sorts of moral formation (or deformation?) can take place in medical school education? What does it mean to see medicine as a “vocation” and how does the practice of medicine have a moral dimension to it? These are hard, important questions that anyone planning on medical school (or already in medical school) should give time to contemplate. Please join us for a public panel in which four experts from medical schools around the country will weigh in on these and other questions.

More information here.